Wild thrash Blackhawks in Stadium Series game
MINNEAPOLIS -- It's safe to say that few of the 50,000-plus fans in attendance Sunday had as much fun as Minnesota Wild wingers Jason Pominville and Erik Haula.
MINNEAPOLIS - It’s safe to say that few of the 50,000-plus fans in attendance Sunday had as much fun as Minnesota Wild wingers Jason Pominville and Erik Haula.
With Minnesota hosting a Stadium Series game for the first time, Pominville and Haula each had a goal and two assist as the Wild won their fourth in a row, beating the Chicago Blackhawks 6-1 at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus.
Right winger Nino Niederreiter, left wingers Thomas Vanek and Ryan Carter, and defenseman Matt Dumba also scored for the Wild (27-22-10), who improved to 4-0-0 under interim head coach John Torchetti. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk made 31 saves as the Wild won in Minnesota for the first time in 2016.
For Chicago, their fresh air experience didn’t seem to help, as the Blackhawks (38-19-5) were mostly silent offensively and fell to 1-3-0 all time in outdoor games. They got a goal from right winger Patrick Kane, 19 saves from starting goalie Corey Crawford, and seven more from Scott Darling, who came on in relief after 40 minutes.
Neither goalie was a match for Minnesota’s suddenly enlivened offense. Since previous head coach Mike Yeo was fired eight days ago, the Wild have scored five or more goals in four straight games, which is a franchise record.
“I think everyone’s clicking,” said Vanek, one of three former University of Minnesota stars who factored in the scoring. “Any time a coach change happens I think it gives everyone a kind of re-start button and I think you can see it. I think everyone is making plays where a week ago maybe we weren’t making plays, myself included. We’re playing with confidence and we’ve got to make sure we keep it here because we have a ways to go.”
Minnesota got the massive crowd involved early, taking a 1-0 lead before four minutes had elapsed. After a Blackhawks shot was blocked, Wild right winger Justin Fontaine’s lead pass sprung Carter on a breakaway from the red line. Crawford stopped Carter’s initial shot and the rebound, but could not control the puck. Dumba crashed hard to the crease and popped the loose puck beyond the reach of Crawford’s blocker.
The first power play of the game went to the Wild, and they doubled their lead when Vanek re-directed a blast from the point by Pominville.
“You get that first goal in the first game, you get a little belief,” said Torchetti of Pominville’s newfound confidence. “Being comfortable on the power play is big.”
Chicago thought they had gotten a goal back near the midway point of the first when Dubnyk was knocked down and Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith’s shot hit the back of the net, but officials immediately waved the goal off and whistled Chicago captain Jonathan Toews for interfering with Dubnyk on the play.
“We got pucks down there, we didn’t win our battles, we didn’t get the puck back. It was just one and done every single time and that’s a team that plays a pretty good puck possession game,” said Toews, as Chicago fell to the Wild for the third time this season. “They’re solid defensively. You have one rush and one chance in their zone and it’s back down the other way. It’s hard to sustain any kind of offense and eventually convert that into the results and the goals. We didn’t have enough tonight.”
A bang-bang passing play by the Wild made it 3-0 early in the middle period. Pominville, from behind the net, fed Haula, who was five feet out from the top of the crease. Instead of shooting, Haula zipped a pass to Niederreiter at the right of the net, where a low shot missed Crawford’s out-stretched leg pad.
That same trio made it 4-0 midway through the game, with Haula passing to Niederreiter, Niederreiter feeding the puck to Pominville, and Pominville blasting a slap shot from the slot that beat Crawford on the glove side.
Carter welcomed Darling to the game in an unfriendly manner, scoring his sixth goal of the season early in the third period to make it 5-0 and further ignite the festive crowd.
Chicago’s only reason to cheer came late in the third when Kane banked a low shot off Dubnyk’s right leg. It was Kane’s 35th goal of the season, which is tops in the Western Conference.
Haula capped things when he was credited with a goal when he was hauled down from behind by Kane as he headed toward an empty net, after the Blackhawks pulled Darling for an extra attacker with more than six minutes to play.
“What a feeling, first to get the win, and have the whole team play that well,” said Haula, another former Gopher. “Having 50,000 people, being back home where it started, it was incredible.”
Minnesota lost left winger Jason Zucker with less than five minutes to play in the second. Chicago defenseman Michal Rozsival collided hard with Zucker near the blue line, hitting Zucker in the head with his shoulder and arm. Zucker fell immediately, with his helmeted head hitting the ice hard. Doctors attended to Zucker and helped him from the ice on a cart, while Rozsival was assessed a game misconduct and left the game as well.
“I think it was a major, it was a spontaneous play as a defenseman in that situation,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “He just played the man, unfortunately the player was injured.”
NOTES: This was the 17th outdoor game played by NHL teams in the modern era, and the first played in Minnesota. ... TCF Bank Stadium first hosted outdoor hockey two years ago, with the University of Minnesota beating Ohio State 1-0 on Jan. 17, 2014. Wild rookie D Mike Reilly played in that game for the Gophers on a bitterly cold night, with temperatures hovering near zero.